Sunday, June 06, 2010

Four Things

Thank you to Motherhood the Final Frontier and Katyboo for mentioning this blog on a list of awards. I've spending the last couple of weeks racking my brains trying to find a worthy response, but have failed miserably.

I managed to come up with a few random "things-you-don't-know-about-me", including my brief and unlikely appearance as a science expert on Radio Five, the time I nearly killed Kenickie in Tunbridge Wells and the vicar who asked me if I minded whether he masturbated, but most of these anecdotes diminished in the telling.

I also began a shortlist of blogs to recommend, but the list grew unmanageably long.

In the end, I decided to change the rules and instead of personal trivia, I've listed four things that I feel passionately about. There are many other things I could have mentioned, but in the blogosphere, less is more.

As far as recommending other blogs goes, I'd rather take the opportunity to say why Katyboo and Motherhood are such compelling bloggers. Although their blogs are very different, they both write with a refreshing candour about the agonies and ecstacies of trying to reconcile their hopes and dreams with the demands of parenthood.

With Katyboo, there is a gripping, confessional, warts and all account of her daily life that is far removed from the twee, sentimental nonsense that appears in many magazines. Motherhood has written one of my favourite blog posts of all time, encapsulating the challenges of reconciling desire and duty.

And now on to my random selecting of four things that make life worth living. Most people reading this blog will, I'm sure, be aware of the magic of "A Matter of Life and Death" (US title "Stairway to Heaven"), but just in case there's anyone left who hasn't seen this remarkable film, here's a clip:

This is an extraordinary film. On the one hand it is quintessentially English, but on the other it is thoroughly atypical, written by a Hungarian, with an international cast. A Matter of Life and Death is witty, imaginative and humane and must have been a breath of fresh air when it appeared, a year after the end of World War Two.

Next, Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major - a wonderful, life-affirming piece of music that fizzes with energy. Born in 1874, Ravel became associated with the Impressionists and his early works are rich, luxuriant compositions that encapsulate the spirit of the fin de siecle culture before 1914

Ravel served as an ambulanceman in the First World War and if he'd been killed in action, posterity would have regarded him as a gifted disciple of Debussy. However, Ravel survived and in the 1920s, discovered jazz.

A French composer in his 50s might have been shocked by the vulgarity of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, but Ravel loved it and when he was asked to compose a piano concerto, he wrote a vibrant, jazzy work that exhuded youth and passion. This is the first movement and this unusual performance features Leonard Bernstein performing and conducting:

I love the energy and complexity of the music - it really does send shivers down my spine. The first pianist to perform this work remarked to Ravel how hard the music was was to learn. He replied "You should try writing it!"

What's particularly wonderful about this piano concerto is the contrast between the fast, jazzy outer movements and the heart-breaking beauty of the middle one.

Next, The Swimmer:

Based on a John Cheever short story, this film is remarkable in so many ways, from Burt Lancaster's performance as the New England WASP who decides to swim home via his neighbours' swimming pools, to Marvyn Hamlisch's haunting score. Released in 1968, The Swimmer captures the spirit of the age, but its themes are timeless and the film's denouement is one of the saddest things I have ever seen.

Finally, Vaughan Williams' Symphony No.5 - a work that was first performed during the 1943 Proms season in London. Before the concert began, the audience were told that in the event of an air raid, they were welcome to leave the building but the orchestra intended to carry on playing.

The 70-year-old composer walked up to the podium, looking like a slightly dishevelled gentleman farmer, and began conducting.

Vaughan Williams' previous symphony, written in the mid-1930s, had been a violent, angst-ridden work, but the new work had a serenity that, for some, seemed to offer spiritual consolation in the midst of war. For others, with its predominantly pastoral nature, this was the swan song of a composer whose musical language had been heavily influenced by English folk music.

In fact, this symphony was the work of a man who had fallen in love with a woman nearly 40 years his junior and this movement, in particular, is a passionate, heartfelt outpouring:

In the 1950s, they married and for the remainder of his life, Vaughan Williams was blissfully happy. As for the 5th Symphony, it was no swan song. Vaughan Williams went on to write another four, composing his last when he was 85.

So there are four reasons for living. I apologise to Motherhood and Katyboo for slightly bending the rules of blog awards, but it was either this or nothing.


katyboo1 said...

Rule bending is positively de rigeur at our house. Thank you so much for sharing your list. I am passionate about other people's passions and knowing next to nothing about classical music I found your explanations truly fascinating. I will listen to the music with them in mind.

Thank you.

Motherhood The Final Frontier said...

Oh, thank you for your lovely words about mine, and as for bending the rules, I would have been disappointed if you hadn't (actually, I did too when I got my meme so you're in good company).
I LOVE your passions. Beautiful and most educational for riffraff me. xo

Jim Murdoch said...

The Ravel I’d go with although I actually prefer his Concerto for the Left Hand and the same with the Vaughan Williams; if I had to pick a symphony it would have to be Symphony No 2 but I have a sentimental attachment to his Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis that would make it my favourite work by him. It’s been years since I saw The Swimmer and even more years since I’ve seen A Matter of Life and Death. It’s always interesting to hear which things get a grip on someone’s soul.

When my wife and I were first getting to know each other we made Top 10 lists and mine were always 20 or 30 long. I could never do Desert Island Discs.

Steerforth said...

Jim, I'm with you on the London Symphony (in fact I love just about everything that Vaughan Williams wrote, except for the Sea Symphony). I really enjoyed the Chandos recording of the original version which, whilst not being superior to the revised, gave us an extra five minutes of some really gorgeous music.

I don't know why, but I usually listen to it in winter, around twilight.